EE Research: Creating a Framework to Assess Nature Field Trips
Looking for a more complete measurement of the effectiveness of outdoor excursions
from EE Research Bulletin
Nicole Ardoin, Editor
THE RESEARCH: Morag, O., & Tal, T. (2012). Assessing learning in the outdoors with the Field Trip in Natural Environments (FiNE) framework. International Journal of Science Education, 34(5), 745-777.
Learning during field trips to informal learning centers often has focused on built environments such as museums and zoos. But, the authors of this paper argue, “the field trip in nature differs in many ways from a museum, planetarium or science centre visit, as it allows direct experiences with natural phenomena and wildlife.” As a result, the authors believe that outdoor field trips deserve an assessment framework of their own, and they propose the Field Trip in Natural Environments (FiNE) framework.
Developed from previous frameworks for outdoor education field trips, this framework diverges in that the authors believe that the FiNE framework “provides a more holistic view of the field trip experience than most other works do,” because it assesses the field trip from the planning stages through the teaching methods used in the field to the learner outcomes after the experience.
The authors developed the framework based on their observations of 22 field trips to natural and archaeological sites in Israel from 2006-2009. The four- to eight-hour field trips consisted of 20 to 30 students in fourth through sixth grades brought by their teacher to an outdoor site. The students were met by a professional facilitator who led the field trip, which typically consisted of a guided walk and sometimes also included other prepared activities. The researchers observed these field trips, and also conducted interviews with 41 students from seven schools a day before and a day or two after the field trip.
The key components of the FiNE framework follow. The authors provided scoring rubrics for many of the components of the framework to help evaluate each of the field trip’s various aspects.
Classroom preparation—covering important information about the upcoming trip, including when and where the trip will be, the purpose of the trip, what to wear and bring, etc.
Collaboration—communication between the facilitator and the teacher or school to clarify learning goals and mutual expectations
Connection to curriculum—making explicit connections between the field trip content and the students’ classroom curriculum
Clarifying the goals—making the goals for the experience clear during the field trip, so that students understand the purpose of the visit and how to participate
Using the environment—making effective use of the surrounding environment to enhance learning
Connection to everyday life—providing meaningful connections between the content of the field trip and students’ everyday life
Social interactions—designing experiences to facilitate social learning, whether they are interactions between students or between students and adults
Facilitator’s performance—the facilitator’s appropriate use of interpersonal, communication, and logistical skills
Physical activity—using physical activities such as climbing trees, crawling through caves, wading through rivers, and so on to enhance the learning experience
Active learning—using planned activities to facilitate learning
(The researchers believe that each of these activities should be assessed from both the students’ point of view, through interviews, and the researchers’ point of view, through observations, for a total of four data points related to activities.)
Feelings, attitudes, and beliefs—students express feelings about nature, especially related to the value of nature
Knowledge and understanding—students demonstrate detailed understanding of key concepts, using examples to demonstrate understanding
In the authors’ view, the 22 field trips they observed scored poorly in the framework, missing points for oversights such as insufficient planning, failing to communicate goals, leading activities that lacked social interaction or interesting physical activity, and so on.
Although the authors believe that this framework is ready for use by schools and organizations, they acknowledged that it was built from research drawn from a fairly small sample. And they hope to further refine the instrument with a written survey that can complement the student interviews for a more quantitative measure of the outcomes. They concluded, “We presume that our findings regarding the large-scale administration of the questionnaire will pave the way for its use in other countries and contexts.”
THE BOTTOM LINE: The FiNE framework for assessing outdoor field trips, presented for the first time in this article, can serve as a useful reminder of many of the important aspects of field trip planning and execution, and the rubrics provided in the paper can help observers better gauge a field trip’s success. However, the framework is not based on extensive experimental research or drawn from a large body of observational research. It also cannot help predict any particular outcomes. For example, high scores in some parts of the framework do not guarantee high scores in the outcomes of the field trip.